Just because you can eat your placenta doesn’t mean you should

Every few news cycles placenta-eating seems to make the rounds. I’ve already seen it a couple of times  this year, so I figured the Internet is trying to tell me something. 

Some women, but mostly those who recommend and/or prepare placenta for them, think that ingesting placenta can cure/help post partum depression and possibly a host of other post partum ills and issues. Some women cook their own placenta while others get a pill form prepared by an enterprising midwife or placenta-concoctor. Is this wise? It is safe? Is there any science?

But animals do it…

This argument is used often by placentophagia proponents and honestly, I hate it. It makes no sense medically. Just because an animal or mammal does something it doesn’t imply A – safety or B – benefit for humans. Animals have different enzymes, gut bacteria, nutritional needs, pregnancies and deliveries, and physiology not to mention different behaviors and evolutionary pressures. A deer-faun dyad has evolved to be on the go almost immediately after delivery and we have not. Growing up I witnessed what happens when a recently delivered gerbil gets stressed – she eats her babies. Many animals  have litters. And so on.

Placentophagia is missing from our science and our history as humans 

It might not surprise you that not one article exists in the medical literature about the benefits or risks of placenta eating in humans. No one has even studied what is in the prepared placenta pills that many women pay a lot of money to acquire. Do they have hormone? Maybe yes maybe no. The same in each pill? Who knows. What about bacteria? Toss a coin.

However, it’s not the absence of the basic science of placentophagia in the medical literature that should really give pause to question the practice, it’s the complete absence of the behavior in anthropology and historical texts. If placenta-eating were a biological necessity passed down from birth attendant and mother to daughter over the centuries only to be squelched over the past 300 years by the obstetrical patriarchy there would be some detailed history somewhere. There isn’t a red tent for placenta eating.

There is no biological urge

Women feel the urge to push when the time comes and they almost universally use this word even when they have little to no education about what actually happens. Women don’t feel the urge to push because some birth goddess whispers primal secrets, this happens because years of evolution tell us the most successful delivery has effective bearing down at the right time. If placenta eating were a biologic imperative that could treat anemia (excessive blood loss) from delivery, improve breast milk production, and  stave off post partum depression then the most successful at passing on their genes would be women with a taste for placenta. I’ve delivered thousands of women and not one has ever said, “You know, I really crave some placenta.”

But don’t placentas contain important stuff?

Yes, for a fetus and pregnant mother. Urine has water and that’s essential to life, but that doesn’t mean we should drink it routinely.

Could eating placenta be beneficial?

I’m open to anything if supported by good science . If you’d asked me about fecal transplants in the 80s I’d have been ill, but now after reading the studies if I were a candidate I’d get one. Medical necessity breeds odd therapies and makes us look in strange places, but these therapies require studies.

Some women say they feel better eating their placenta

If you expect a therapy will help you it is more likely to do so. If you pay a lot of money it is even more likely to make you feel better. Science tells us these things. Placebos can have an amazing impact, which is a big reason we need studies.

Are there any harms?

Possibly. If production of estrone and progesterone (two placenta hormones) were important we’d have evolved to produce them after delivery or developed a craving for placenta, but we didn’t do either so to assume we need these is a stretch. Hormones, even our own, can have unforseen complications. A lot of estrogen after delivery can suppress breast milk production and just because your body made the hormones doesn’t mean they can’t cause a blood clot or cancer. Then there is infection. If the membranes were ruptured for a while the placenta can be filled with potentially dangerous bacteria. Some placentas absolutely reek of infection, but many are filled with potentially dangerous bacteria that only a microscope can find.

There is a very revealing post by Honest Midwife about the process of making placenta pills in some midwifery practices – grinding and dehydrated raw placenta (so bacteria intact) with no sterilization of equipment between preparations (how does one sterilize a coffee grinder anyway?). So yes, batch after batch from different women could be made in some circumstances with no cleaning of equipment between patients. 

What is the safest way to eat your placenta?

Say the lack of science or mention in our history as humans doesn’t deter you, what should you do? I can offer no advice, but raw seems dangerous.  Cooking it would be the safest bacteria wise, but might destroy any potential active ingredient. Without studies one can’t really say anything including are there even active ingredients and is the oral route appropriate?

A study is unlikely. Who would fund it?  The first step would be to get some placenta pills and analyze them for hormones and bacteria sorting them into groups by method of production. This shouldn’t be too hard to do. I’d love to organize a crowd funded look at the subject. If you know a lab that could do it or want to donate some placenta pills, let me know!


Until then it is potential placenta-consumer beware.

Courtesy UNSW
Courtesy UNSW

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  1. It’s my first time, I have read on many site about the encapsulation, Thankyou for sharing ..I too have decided to do the placenta encapsulation, I have also read – “after you deliver your baby, you also need to deliver the placenta (called stage three of childbirth). You’ll continue to have contractions, and your practitioner may speed along the placenta delivery by pulling gently on the umbilical cord or massaging your uterus. Whether you keep the placenta as a memento, eat it, or let your practitioner take it away is up to you .https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/placenta Is this true…. ?? First time mommy

  2. Hello! I am a fourth year resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology. I find your article interesting. I am actually doing rounds on this topic, and there have been a few human studies, though they are few and far between, methodologies not ideal, and the conclusions would take some time to summarize. If you’re interested in my sides which review the human literature let me know!

    1. I found no clinical trials and no studies looking at cultures from the placenta. I do not believe a study looking at this would get through an IRB without basic safety data looking at bacterial counts on placentas. Feel free to post links to clinical trials and microbiological here.

  3. In my area it is mostly doulas, not the (evidence based practice) Registered Midwives who are encapsulating placentas. This midwife agrees with everything you wrote. I am constantly amazed that the same woman who refuses vitamin K for her newborn because “you don’t know what’s in it” will happily eat her dried placenta because it’s “natural”. If you want to prevent PPD get enough help after the birth so that you can sleep – that’s proven. If you want a good milk supply stop worrying about how often your baby feeds and embrace baby led breastfeeding. If you don’t want to haemorrhoid see previous point about postpartum rest and stay out of the mall I the first week or so.
    And how many pathology reports have you read showing inflammatory changes, villitis and chorioamniotitis evidence in a placenta and membranes that seemed ok visually? Yuck.

  4. I’m a doula and I agree totally. I even have a blog post about why I didn’t eat or encapsulate my placenta. It’s not based on science or human history.

  5. This is a very interesting article! This also seems like a sensitive topic to women I’ve found. Personally speaking with my second child I did the placenta encapsulation and it definitely made a difference in my milk supply. I wish that it was a placebo effect that took place, since I’ve tried a couple different supplements since and none have worked the same. I will agree that the PPD cure that the placenta supposedly provides could be a placebo effect. I would be so “emotional” around the time I needed to take my next pill.

    I will say I was in touch with the midwife who made my pills weeks before I delivered. I am a nurse, so I’m sure she was eventually rolling her eyes behind that phone at all of my questions, but she satisfactorally answered all of them regarding the sterilization process and storage.

    I do have a couple questions. You mentioned a some placenta are saturated with bacteria. What types of bacteria are harbored in the placenta? Is it one that can be handled by the gut without any issues?

    Again thanks so much for the information! This has been a long held practice in Chinese culture, although I could never cook and eat my placenta. 😝 hopefully it does gain some attention and have a study completed on it soon!

    1. Actually there is no reference I can find of this being a practice in any culture.

      The placenta can have anything in the birth canal, group B strep and E.Coli would likely be the top two.

  6. Love your post and information, but the most striking part for me was this: “I’ve delivered thousands of women” – reading that made ME want to be able to say that, too. (I’ve probably delivered only about 100.) Your blog reminds me every day that I’m not ready to eliminate OBGYN as a potential field.

  7. OH my god !!!!! this information is really inetresting !!!!!
    I get impressed !! Ilove it.

  8. My colleague once told me of a woman who wanted to name her newborn baby “placenta.” She didn’t know what it was, only heard the medical staff saying it and thought it sounded pretty. Good thing they talked her out of it.

    Those pictures… Ugh.

    1. Aw. Never mind I think that was an urban legend. Probably not an acquaintance of my colleague.

      1. I shouldn’t have told that story without it being backed up by science first! 😉 Ha ha. Okay I’m going now.

  9. From my personal experience, my placenta became attached to me while being pregnant with my third son, who I lost inside of me.

    After having my still born child my placenta grew attached to me so my body naturally absorbed the placenta after a week of complete bed rest.

    Now shortly after that I received a IUD due to my recent child loss in 2006, I decided to get some birth control. The birth control device was put in and taken out the same yr., 6yrs later they found a piece of the device which migrated and started chemically attacking my internal organs and causing pre-cancer stages and other life threatening medical problems.

    So I”m not sure about how the placenta eating really relates to curing post partum depression.

    Owner/Founder – CABIRI

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